Visitors abseil from the top of Table Mountain. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Visitors abseil from the top of Table Mountain. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

A word not often heard in economic discussions is sustainability, often defined as the capacity of the economy for continuance into the long-term future.

We  should recognise that our economy is utterly dependent on the country and planet to provide all our raw material for production, and it must be also able to absorb and deal with all our waste.

A sustainable economy developed in the 19th century considered a simple model including only equilibrium and efficiency. This model was seriously deficient in that it did not reflect reality by not including pollution and assuming certain gifts of nature are free.

Later it was proposed that the economy  is in fact a living complex system and more appropriate for study in that it  reflects flows of energy, matter and information through web-like networks of individual components.

Studies showed that there  is a strong relationship between diversity and the interconnectivity of the different agents. Highly efficient systems unfortunately lead to low resilience, and a balance has to be found, usually tending towards resilience.  

These studies show that mining has zero sustainability and we should slowly move away from reliance on mining. The most sustainable industry  that does not wreak havoc  on the environment and requires little investment is tourism. The most favourable industry  for sustainability is farming.

We have an abundance of land know-how, but the current method of latifundia farming is ruining our countryside. We should move away from monoculture and all its deficiencies — genetically modified crops and increased use of man-made fertilizers and pesticides.

Instead, we should move back to mixed farming where the linkages between crops, animals and the soil are affirmed. A move to permaculture would also provide the income for the poorer among us to flourish.

Andre Quinlan
via e-mail

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